International terrorism became American domestic news in 1993. A terrorist bombing at the World Trade Center in New York
City early in the year was followed by the arrest at midyear of
an Islamic fundamentalist cell which allegedly was planning a
series of further bombings in New York, reportedly targeting
the United Nations Building and two highway tunnels leading into Manhattan. Had the tunnel bombings been carried out, they might have killed hundreds of commuters; even if they did not cause flooding in either tunnel, explosions and fires in tunnels crowded with rushhour traffic could have disastrous consequences.
The World Trade Center bombing and the subsequent alleged plot (which appear to have been indirectly connected) caused a spate of reports in the American press, speculating that the relative immunity of the United States from international terrorism was at an end. More generally, the bombing and threat of more bombings drew greater attention to the subject of terrorism as a whole. The press response to the New York incidents had a further consequence, a consequence which is, perhaps, worthy of closer examination.
The Trade Center bombing and the alleged plot were both associated with followers of a previously obscure New Jersey clergyman, Shaikh Abdul Rahman, a Muslim fundamentalist who preaches at a mosque which occupies an upstairs room in a building in a nondescript New Jersey neighborhood near New York City (Frantz, 1993). Until the shaikh's alleged ties to the Trade Center bombers and the later abortive bombing campaign were reported, he was sunk in obscurity so far as the American public and the rest of the Western world were concerned. While well-known in Egypt, his message was heard in the United States only by the two hundred or so worshippers at the mosque where he preached.
All of this changed with the Trade Center bombing and the reports of Shaikh Rahman's links to the bombers....